Recently, the trailer to the latest installment of the Avengers serial: Age of Ultron released. Anytime a preview to a highly anticipated movie releases there is always a wave of response from the populace. That response can be read on Twitter, overheard in cafes, and felt weighty in the air of light-hearted conversation. People become passionate about their expectation on entertainment. I mean, if we’re gonna dish out $10-15 for an evening at the theater, that preview better not oversell, right? So conversations wage over prediction, projections: Will this preview let me down or will it fulfill my need for catharsis?
Previews and Sunday Worship
I’m not gonna Jesus Juke a punchline at the end of this article. I’m going to show you my cards right here. The reality is movie previews are similar and dissimilar to Sunday Worship. Movie trailers preview movies and they often oversell; Sunday worship previews heaven and it cannot oversell.
The correlation of the two, movie previews and Sunday worship, really depends on where you go on Sunday. Some churches try desperately to emulate the elements of affective movie trailers: climactic music, punchy one-line tweetables, whimsical, humorous, passionate, suspenseful moments. Why do they do this? Well, the Sunday preview is said elsewhere to offer a glimpse of heaven and lead you to wonder and long for its mystery. At least that is a common cliche I’ve heard. Have you? No doubt, those churches want people to want heaven, and you can’t fault them for that; it’s a genuine motivation.
But wouldn’t you agree that you’ve entered many churches for a Sunday preview and left knowing it dramatically undersold, even misrepresented the astonishing wonder and magisterial splendor that is heaven? I have. I’ve left embarrassed that I was caught in those places, just like I felt after walking out 30 minutes into the first The Avengers movie.
Walking out of The Avengers, you think I’m nuts. Don’t you? Blockbuster cast, amazing effects, all the one-liners you could ever want. Why would I walk out of that? Well, I’m not talking about the more recent The Avengers (2012) with Robert Downy Jr. and Scarlett Johansson. I’m talking about The Avengers (1998) with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman. I’m talking about the shameful one with Sean Connery in a bunny suit, holding the world ransom by mastering the weather. It doesn’t get more shameful than that. How did I find myself viewing that odious film in the Palace 9 theatre on Ft. Worth’s Sundance Square as a Junior in High School?
I got oversold on a hyped preview.
Heaven Can’t Be Oversold
As much as we conjecture what heaven will be like, we really don’t have much idea. Whether it’s Randy Alcorn’s Heaven or the C. S. Lewis portrayal in The Great Divorce, I think we’re going to stagger and shudder in wonder and exultation of the Heaven which is for real. Thankfully, I can’t get oversold on something that is such a mystery.
Friends, whatever happens on Sunday morning is really a meager morsel of heaven. It’s the dregs of coffee or the crumbs of a Fig Newton, which is a cookie folks, not a cake! It’s the navel lint to the perfection we’ll behold. It’s a minute foretaste of heaven indeed.
We need to be careful what we present on Sunday mornings because people will leave, not oversold, but scoffingly undersold, because pyrotechnics were leveraged rather than providence proclaimed.
I firmly believe the key to properly previewing heaven isn’t wowing people with contemporvant antics but proclaiming the God who is. When people witness others astonished by the gospel paradox, lapping up delight in Christ, and sitting under the preached Word, they will not scoff, be put-off, be undersold or oversold. They will taste the goodness of God breaking into the world of men; they will trade the secular universe for the created cosmos.